Effective Onscreen Editing: New tools for an old profession

by Geoff Hart (Pointe-Claire, Quebec: Diaskeuasis Publishing, 2007): 711pp, £21.39 (pbk), US$15 (PDF), available from Geoff-Hart.com, ISBN 978 0 978 32270 0 (Second edition).

Reviewed by Hester Higton

Previously only available as a pdf download, Geoff Hart's 'instant classic' now comes in printed form – and the author is giving SfEP members a special discount. More information on discounts available to SfEP members.

Despite the major shift from paper editing to working onscreen, supporting texts are thin on the ground. This makes the appearance of Geoff Hart's Effective Onscreen Editing all the more welcome.

The book's more than 700 pages cover almost every possible aspect of editing on computer. At the same time, Hart is eager to encourage his readers not always to rely on turning to the relevant chapter of his text. Instead, he recommends that they spend time experimenting and finding out the ways in which they can make their word-processing programs work for them instead of making them tear out their hair.

Nuts and bolts

After introductory material on the benefits of onscreen editing, the main body of the text covers the nuts and bolts:

  • personalizing your software to save time later
  • efficient ways of moving around a document and selecting text
  • how to use revision tracking
  • quick ways of inserting and deleting text
  • using search tools to improve consistency in a document
  • developing style sheets
  • using spelling and grammar checkers
  • developing macros to automate basic editing processes.

These chapters are followed by discussions about:

  • ways to use the internet effectively
  • editing in special situations (using HTML, XML and the like)
  • how to cope when revision tracking is not being used by your client
  • how to overcome resistance to onscreen editing.

Concentration on Word

Additional material in the appendices includes: learning to back up your work efficiently; creating a healthy working environment; an all-important table of Word keyboard shortcuts; and a list of useful internet resources.

Hart concentrates on Microsoft Word, given its dominant position in the publishing industry, but explains that people using other platforms should be able to find similar shortcuts and work-rounds.

Useful tricks

I have been using computers in my work for nearly 20 years and feel I know my way around them pretty well, but I picked up many useful tricks from this book. These ranged from learning that there is a Word keyboard shortcut to return to the last place in a document that was edited (Shift + F5) to being pushed to sit down and sort out a better range of macros for everyday use.

I had rather hoped that the chapter on style sheets would teach me more about making use of word-processing styles, rather than methods for preparing standard editor's style sheets for projects. And I did long for a discussion of tags for marking up headings, extracts and so on, for which there seems to be no clear guidance in this field.

Minor quibbles

Nevertheless, these are very minor quibbles. I wholeheartedly recommend the book as an essential part of any onscreen editor's library.

Buying the book

Effective Onscreen Editing is a print-on-demand (POD) book. Following an order, it takes three to five days to produce, and then the book will be posted to you. An email will be sent to you just before it's posted. If you prefer a pdf or e-book, this is available at the discounted price of $15 for SfEP members.

Note: the third edition is now available, and the author is again giving SfEP members a special discount. More information on discounts available to SfEP members.

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